Chants of “Black lives matter” and “Indigenous lives matter” could be heard through downtown Lethbridge on Thursday afternoon, as more than 1,000 protesters gathered at city hall to protest against racism.
The protest was peaceful, with police officers on site telling Global News they were impressed by the crowd. But the masses were vocal, and made it clear that they have had enough.
“[This] means that we’re taking the time to listen, it means that people are finally starting to tune in,” said Javier Moreira-Jovel, one of dozens of speakers who made an impassioned plea for racial equality.
“It’s important that people are gathered here in solidarityy, because this isn’t something that is just affecting America.”
The rally was organized by Lethbridge’s Group United Against Racial Discrimination (GUARD).
“In light of the recent developments, we recognize the underlying issue at hand is a systemic one,” GUARD said in a Facebook post. “A system that was built on white supremacy that has sought to marginalize the lives and voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
“We might want to believe this systemic issue is only present in the United States or other parts of the world, but the daily experiences of BIPOC individuals here in Canada and in Lethbridge shows otherwise. It is time we stopped turning a blind eye to these issues and speak up.”
The topic of racism not just being an issue in the United States was a common theme on Thursday, with the crowd repeatedly chanting “it happens here, too.”
“Obviously we’re protesting in solidarity with everything going down in the [United] States,” said protester Alexa Gray. “But we have our own issues here that I think deserve to be addressed as well.
“We deal with a lot of police brutality towards Indigenous people, including all of the missing and murdered Indigenous women.”
Protester Joan Wierzba said she had a long history of attending peaceful — and not peaceful — protests, including against the Vietnam War. She said she hopes that the current rallying cry is enough to finally swing the pendulum.
“This time around seems to be different, and I’m hoping that this time around will make positive change,” she said.
Lethbridge city officials — including Mayor Chris Spearman, who made a speech to the crowd — were on hand, as well as Lethbridge MP Rachael Harder.
“This is a problem that lies with individuals mistreating other individuals,” Harder said, “but it is also a problem that lies within systems that mistreat individuals, and it’s wrong.”
Harder and Spearman both took a knee for several minutes as the protest began with silence, after 13-year-old Carson Warren made the first speech.
“I came here and talked because I feel like I have a voice,” said Warren, “and we need to step up, and this is not very fair.”
GUARD organizers said they would love to host another protest soon, but planning for another rally has not yet started.
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